As Tanzania’s Magufuli attempts to fool the world, his secretary-general spills the beans

Kabudi (2nd left) in one of his group photos on his recent trip to USA. Credit: Tibor Nagy

THREE weeks ago, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli promised heaven on earth by telling the international community that he was committed to ensuring a free and fair election in October 2020. But two questions remained unanswered. 

Firstly, is the trustworthiness of his word when everyone knows how badly he has been treating his critics and political opponents. Secondly, existing legal frameworks do not support any free and fair elections. 

That is why many champions of democracy and election stakeholders have been calling for the establishment of an independent electoral commission. Without it, and going by what happened during a series of by-elections and the November 2019 civic elections, speaking of a free and fair election sounds a bit lunatic.

Seeking to fool the world and to lure international support, Magufuli sent his Foreign Affairs Minister Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi to the USA with the same “sweet-word mission.” But even before his minister returned to Tanzania, his party’s Secretary-General Dr Bashiru Ali spilt the beans with a reckless statement to the media, saying that his party, CCM, would retain state power by using state apparatus

To hammer his point home, he cited Kenya’s KANU and Zambia’s UNIP as an example of African ruling parties that foolishly lost power because of their failure to employ state machinery in their favour. 

With Magufuli as CCM flagbearer seeking reelection to the office, and based on his brutal leadership style, why would sane Tanzanians and the international community trust him on this matter? Of course, his secretary-general subconsciously spoke his mind and revealed their sinister plans.

What the state has been doing for almost five years consecutively, to disparage, freeze, sabotage, and suffocate the opposition – to the point of shedding blood for political victory – is enough testimony to the truth accidentally spoken by the ruling party’s secretary-general. 

It is understood that Magufuli’s original motive was unveiled on February 5, 2016, when he expressed his wish to have obliterated the opposition before 2020. So, whatever Magufuli says now about the October 2020 election should be taken with great caution because he is not expected to intentionally work towards his own defeat.

His recent statement is an obvious attempt to fool the world and calm the international community that has been criticising his country’s worst human rights record. 

This may partly explain the US Embassy’s caution as it welcomed Magufuli’s January 21 statement regarding the “free and fair” election. The embassy, in its statement, called for “an election where all citizens and candidates from all parties are able to gather peacefully, express their opinions, and campaign on an equal basis.”

Sceptics, banking on the experience of Magufuli’s leadership style in the past four years, do point out that such a wish can never happen in Tanzania as long as Magufuli is the president-cum-candidate. He is simply playing tricks to spin international political opinion in his favour. 

And this sheds some light on his sudden invitation of selected opposition leaders to the statehouse for secret one-on-one talks last week – Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba (CUF chairman), James Mbatia (NCCR-Chairman) and Seif Sharrif Hamad (a member of ACT-Wazalendo). 

While unsuspecting observers might be led to think the president’s move is his response to the call for national cohesion, political insiders do understand that the motive is meant to divide and weaken the opposition in order to avoid a strong coalition.  

Since 2015, Lipumba has been working as a clear ally to Magufuli. Mbatia’s party is almost insignificant in Tanzania’s politics. He is the only member of parliament from his party, thanks to a previous opposition coalition (UKAWA) to which his party belonged. 

Magufuli shows outright hostility against the main opposition party, whose top leaders face trumped-up charges. The court is expected to make a ruling on one of their serious charges tomorrow – March 10, 2020, in what some analysts expect heavy fines and possible incarceration of some of them. 

At the same time, he is working to foster an informal alliance with weak opposition parties in order to justify a multiparty election for which he needs international support. Insiders say his motive is to use some of smaller parties against bigger ones and to instil internal hostilities within some of their parties. Word is out that the state is already corrupting some of them to that effect. 

Worse still, Magufuli’s party has embarked on silently using a tribal base for political gain – a vice that has never happened in five decades of Tanzania’s politics. Last week, the pubic was baffled with a series of audio clips circulating on social media containing a political message in Magufuli’s vernacular – Kisukuma – pleading to his tribesmen for a solid unity to ensure his re-election.

The public is silently mad at this tribalistic move which is apt to poison the country’s politics forever. For fear of retaliation from state organs, people do not speak up in public. But the leader of the opposition, Freeman Mbowe, says the politics of tribalism and hatred is unacceptable and must be avoided to avert civil strife of ineffable proportions. 

Any hope for opposition coalition? There is still a glimmer of hope for a coalition of some opposition parties. CHADEMA and ACT-WAzalendo are the most likely entities that would work together to pose a formidable force against CCM. 

Analysts say Magufuli’s inclusion of Maalim Seif Shariff Hamad among invited opposition leaders at the statehouse last week was meant to confuse ACT-Wazalendo members and the opposition in general in two ways. Firstly, Hamad is not the party leader. So, if the president’s intention was to speak to the leaders, he should have invited the ACT-Wazalendo party leader. Hamad has a huge influence, given his political profile in Zanzibar politics, but his invitation raised eyebrows of some ACT-Wazalendo members. Secondly, his invitation was meant to cause suspicion of other parties against his party, which would quicken the state’s endeavour to foil any meaningful coalition of opposition parties. 

SAUTI KUBWA understands from well-placed sources that Hamad, given his long experience in this type of politics, had all this in mind before and after the meeting with the president.

“Hamad is a bold and experienced politician. He cannot easily fall prey to Magufuli’s tricks. That is why when Mbatia and Lipumba were behaving strangely after their statehouse meeting with the president – separately making derogatory statements against other opposition parties –  Hamad spoke to the media to clarify these issues and to assert his position,” ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe has told SAUTI KUBWA.

As it stands, the face of the opposition and its potential coalition as of now banks on the fate of CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo. Both parties have expressed their interest in a grand coalition of parties that share the vision and have the same spirit.

While Magufuli promises free and fair elections without efforts to establish the legal mechanism towards it, and his secretary-general insists they will employ state organs to snatch victory, and the opposition still relies on the people’s power as the way to go, the international community needs to find its true place in this political game.

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